1. The People: It is always great to see Nick's family around the holidays!! One of the highlights for me was meeting Annie, Martin and Anja for the first time after following Annie's blog pretty regularly over the past year or so! What an adorable family! We went to a local cafe which is one of my all-time favorite things to do, and we were all instant friends. We also got to hang out with one of Nick's best friends, Jason, who lives in California now. We went to Three Floyds brewery and you would never have guessed that it had been a year between the last time Nick and Jason were together.
2. The Pizza: Need I say more? The Chicago pizza deserves a place of its own on my list.
3. All the Other Food: In Chicagoland, I consider Pizza its own elevated food group, but the reality is, all the food seems to taste delicious in the region. From loaded skillets at local diner's at breakfast to the grocery store selection of homemade breads and fresh fruit and Connie's tirimisu (their pizza rocks as well). And the best part? Its cheap!! We also enjoyed fine coffee from Intelligentsia in Chicago and on our way out of town found that the local grocery store brews their coffee deliciousness!!! And the worst part is all those trips to Starbucks when we could of had some really good coffee! I am such a snob.4. Chicago: I love Chicago. I like it better than any other city I have been to. We seem to have an oppurtunity to visit a new museum each trip and this time we went to the Field Museum. There was an awesome Native American Exibit that totally blew away the Smithsonian Indian museum (which quite frankly sucks). There was also a really eerie mummy exhibit. Seeing mummified children was a little too creepy for my taste and I was worried Anastasia would have nightmares from it! Yikes! We also went to the Lincoln Park Zoo which I LOVE!! I love that it is free and that they have polar bears! We trekked across ice and snow for half a mile or so to see the polar bears (since Anastasia LOVES polar bears) and the polar bear was inside! I guess he didn't want to get snow on his paws! But the zoo was all lit up for Christmas and we saw penguins, lions, hippos, jaguars, and sea lions and Anastasia DID NOT want to leave. 5. The Pace: Everything seems slower and relaxed in the midwest! Even in Chicago compared to the east coast. It was perfect for making a relaxing vacation!
6. The Snow: I love the white fluffy stuff. I wasn't expecting 70 degree weather one day or I would have tried to enjoy it a little more right away! We even had a white Christmas!!!7. The Timelessness: I am not sure if that is the right word, but I feel like when I go to the midwest, I step back into my childhood a little bit. All the local diners and a bigger variety of non-big-box stores, as well as the feeling that I walked onto the set of "A Christmas Story." For some reason, I just feel like a kid again in the midwest.
8. The Beer: On our way out of town I picked up some of our local favorite brewskies: Three Floyds Gumball Head, Goose Island Honker's Ale and (not-so-local) Lienenkugel's Honey Weiss. I assured the cashier that I wasn't an alcoholic but we were just stocking up on midwestern beer. She probably thought I was in denial. Three Floyds has an awesome brewery in Munster, Nick's home town. They have really good beer.9. The Culture: I love the midwestern blue-collar culture. Pizza and Beer. Big Trucks. Etc. Its just hard working Americans who like to have a good time and eat lots of great food. Cool. I also love the cultural aspects of Chicago (minus the nasty politics) with hip music venues, specialty shopping and boutique-lined streets, hot cafes, the lake, Navy Pier, killer museums, beautiful and unique parks, etc. A little bit of everything for every walk of life.
10. Did I mention the PIZZA or the Good Food? I feel like all we did out there was eat. Yum. We passed up Jamba this time, but normally we go to one of the half-million Jamba Juices in Chicago. We also gave Isabel her first taste of ice cream from Gayety's Ice Cream. It was love at first taste when I put a tiny bit on her tongue and she smiled ear to ear! They have the best chocolate ice cream I have ever known. It is a new tradition to give our kids Gayety's as one of their first taste's of people food. I know if I lived out there I would look like a beluga whale!